Category Archives: Conferences

Employing a different tack: Employability as a Discourse

In the latter part of 2014, my colleague, Errol Rivera, attended a conference in Edinburgh that addressed the subject of university-to-work transitions. In this blog post, Errol raises the question about how ‘employability’ is increasingly being treated as a ‘discipline’ in its own right. He argues for an alternative narrative drawing on Foucault: one of ‘employability as a discourse’.

 

“In October, fellow educators gathered at a Society for Research into Higher Education event to discuss the state of graduate employability and share success stories of work placement and internships initiatives. In the concluding plenary, an interesting conversation arose. Regarding the subject of employability, its growing importance and the level of understanding it requires, are we looking at the rise of a new discipline?

The employability of HE graduates is an issue which impacts us on a national if not global level. Those within and outwith education institutions have an interest in tracking the current state of employment among graduates, identifying contributing factors, and articulating and projecting the effects of graduate employment statistics onto the social, political, and economic robustness of our society. The search to define, provide, and increase employability for our students has necessitated powerful tools for a deeper, more widely applicable understanding of the matter. But what are we actually trying to do with that understanding? Are we looking for significant relationships between practice and outcome? Do we assume there is a solution – that somewhere between the data and the relevant context we can reverse engineer a single policy or a combination of policies that can be enacted on a university or national level to bring about positive change? Are we chasing a single, all-encompassing answer that doesn’t exist – that shouldn’t exist?

Engaging with the notion of ‘employability as a discourse’ is a direct response to this ongoing conversation. What would we find if we employed the critical lens of Michel Foucault’s “The Order of Discourse” as a sensibility for interrogating publications, employability initiatives and university strategies – everything that articulates our understanding of how we ensure graduates’ futures? Given Foucault’s imperative for specificity and his resistance to the “process of exclusion” that is the notion of ‘Truth’, I’d imagine such an interrogation would lead us to acknowledge the success of work placement schemes, internships, and programmes of study that are contextual, dialogic, programme focussed, and even provisional. In embracing the culture of the respective practice of each profession, these initiatives are eschewing the notion that graduate employability maps onto to a single outcome. There is no single solution, and nor should educators be looking for one.”

Errol Rivera works at Edinburgh Napier University as a creative writer and pedagogical researcher. He also loves dogs and backs my on-going campaign for an office dog. You can follow his adventures @escottrivera.

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Opening up to OERs

In an attempt to demystify the practices surrounding Open Educational Resources (OER), Open University (OU) and the Scottish Funding Council have come together to launch the Opening Education Practices in Scotland (OEPS) Advisory Forum. I attended their first meeting last week at Edinburgh Training and Conference Venue to find out what it was all about.

Firstly, what are Open Educational Resources and Open Educational Practices?

OER

Our understanding of Open Educational Resources is grounded in established notions of openly licensed content. We have a specific focus on freedoms afforded by openly licensing content (allowing “The 5 Rs”: retain, reuse, revise, remix, redistribute) and the degree to which design development and distribution accounts for equity and openness.

OEP

We think of Open Educational Practices as those educational practices that are concerned with and promote equity and openness. Our understanding of ‘open’ builds on the freedoms associated with “the 5 Rs” of OER, promoting a broader sense of open, emphasising social justice, and developing practices that open up opportunities for those distanced from education.

OEPS project working definitions

The OEPS project has been set up to encourage the incorporation of OERs into daily teaching routines as well as to develop, share and inspire OE best practice in Scotland. OEPS aims to achieve this by developing a peer network and by creating an online hub. The project itself will run from 2014 to 2017 but aims for its outputs to be sustainable well beyond the life of the project.

The hub itself will be based on OpenLearn Works – an existing OU platform designed to share learning projects. They envisage the main users to be practitioners, providers and researchers while the majority of browsers to be informal, learners and students. The idea is that communities can exploit the resources and systems on OpenLearn to genuinely produce positive widening participation change. During the project, OEPS aims to turn OpenLearn into an online hub by:

–          Adding more content

–          Improving the search functionality

–          Giving clearer guidance on creating and uploading OERs

–          Creating alternative formats

–          Becoming mobile-friendly

–          Adding new support mechanisms

–          Becoming interoperable with other platforms

–          Creating a user profile so users can gather and curate profiles and make connections with other users.

I homed in on a couple of useful OER applications that an online hub could facilitate during the mornings’ discussions:

  1. Using OERs to shop courses. OU found that 31.5% informal learners use OERs to try out university-led courses before they sign up. With university fees as they are these days, you want to be sure the course is right for you so this seems an incredibly savvy and sensible use of OERs.
  2. Undertaking guerrilla research. OERs can be used to do research in a much shorter amount of time than conventional pathways by blogging about research ideas or using existing data. This is not an argument to replace traditional research, but to enhance it.

However, in his morning plenary speech – ‘The Battle for Open’ – Prof Martin Weller (Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University & ICDE Chair in OER) highlights that although OERs are no longer on the periphery of education and openness has, so-called, won the battle, it is the meaning of openness that is now up for grabs. In attempts to spread the philosophy of openness, we could in fact create closed resources where contracts and licenced software packages start to close down the opened spaces.

Weller

After lunch, the afternoon flowed into a series of workshops arranged to encourage discussions around current OER practices and initiatives, both in the workplace and in HE and FE. One workshop I found very timely for my own interest was on Open Badges. John Casey (City of Glasgow College) summarises the day’s discussions about the challenges facing Open Badges in his blog post ‘Taking Care of Business’: The Realities of Badging. My next blog post will look at these issues in more depth.

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